KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Thousands of Pakistanis rushed to get vaccinated in the first round of commercial sales of COVID-19 vaccines that began over the weekend, and vaccination sites in the southern city of Karachi said on Sunday that it was already they had exhausted.
Pakistan currently offers free vaccines to frontline healthcare workers and people over 50, but momentum so far has been slow, with the country allowing commercial imports from the private sector to the general public last month.
The first round saw the commercial sale of the Russian two-shot Sputnik V to the general public for about 12,000 Pakistani rupees ($ 80) for a two-dose packet.
Despite the cost, several centers offering the injection reported long lines, with some in Karachi waiting in line for nearly three hours. Most of the queue were young Pakistanis who were not yet eligible for free government vaccination.
“I am very happy to get it as it is now necessary for travel,” Saad Ahmed, 34, told Reuters on Sunday after receiving his injection at a luxury private sector hospital in Karachi.
Although the private sale of vaccines has begun, the government and importers are still locked in a price dispute.
Pakistan initially agreed to exempt imported vaccines from the maximum prices, but later rescinded the exemption and said it would set maximum prices.
A pharmaceutical company, which had already imported 50,000 doses of Sputnik V, took the government to court, where it obtained a provisional order allowing it to sell it until the price was decided.
As soon as vaccination was opened for walk-ins, there were long lines of people, Dr. Nashwa Ahmed, who leads vaccination at the South City Hospital in Karachi, told Reuters.
Images of the late-night queues outside the hospital were shared on social media.
The hospital purchased 5,000 doses of Sputnik V and in just over two days all of its stocks had been administered or booked, said a hospital official who asked not to be named.
Companies, including one of Pakistan’s largest banks, have also purchased large quantities to vaccinate staff, the official said.
Private sales begin as the country grapples with a new wave of COVID-19 infections and healthcare facilities are filling up fast.
The number of patients now in intensive care has reached 3,568, the highest since the pandemic began, a cabinet minister, Asad Umar, said on Twitter. Pakistan has so far reported 687,908 infections and 14,778 deaths.
($ 1 = 152.9400 Pakistani rupees)
Syed Raza Hassan Report; Edited by Peter Graff